Sri Lanka have the last laugh

Published: Monday, February 26, 2007, 23:53 [IST]
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The 1996 World Cup tournament will be remembered as much for Sri Lanka's triumph with bold and innovative batting tactics as with riots, boycotts and an unsatisfactory format.

Arjuna Ranatunga's Sri Lankans were on cloud nine when diminutive Aravinda de Silva cracked a classy century to guide his team to a seven-wicket victory over Mark Taylor's Australians in the day-night final at Lahore.

Sri Lanka were assured of winning two matches even before the first ball had been bowled as both Australia and the West Indies refused to play their opening games in the island nation due to security reasons.

The opening ceremony at Calcutta was a fiasco. Nearly 100,000 spectators at the Eden Gardens were left disappointed when what was promised a grand technological show virtually flopped due to malfunctioning of lasers.

It turned out to be a minor aberration when compared to the riots at the same venue during the semi-final between India and Sri Lanka. India were facing defeat at 120-8 chasing 252 when disturbances began.

The spectators, annoyed with the hosts' dismal batting show, threw missiles on to the field and lit fires in the stands, forcing match-referee Clive Lloyd of the West Indies to award the game to Sri Lanka.

India had lost not only a game of cricket, but also much of their reputation as a sporting nation because that was the first match in the World Cup history to be abandoned due to riots.

Doubts were raised in some quarters over Kenya's shock victory over two-time champions West Indies in a group game in Pune.

Pakistan skipper Wasim Akram faced criticism when he opted out of his team's quarter-final defeat against arch-rivals India due to an injury. Many believed he sat out deliberately, a charge he always denied.

Such was the format that qualifying chances of Australia and the West Indies were not affected after forfeiting the opening games. Twelve sides were divided into two groups, with the top four advancing to the quarter-finals.

The caravan moved from one place to another in three host nations -- India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka -- for nearly three weeks, only to eliminate minnows the United Arab Emirates, the Netherlands, Kenya and Zimbabwe.

Sri Lanka were quick to adapt to the conditions and made the most of the 15-overs fielding restrictions, thanks to openers Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana who demoralised the opposition with over-the-top hitting.

The tactics stood Sri Lanka in good stead and Jayasuriya was named man of the tournament for redefining batting in the opening 15 overs.

Jayasuriya slammed a blazing 44-ball 82 in the first quarter-final to help his team beat Mike Atherton's Englishmen at Faisalabad, only the first time England had failed to reach the semi-finals.

Hansie Cronje's South Africans had been moving menacingly before running into in-form Brian Lara, who hammered a brisk century to set up the West Indies victory at Karachi.

New Zealand threatened Australia when they rode on Chris Harris's century to post a challenging 286. But Australian Mark Waugh made his third hundred of the tournament at the right time to script his team's victory.

Sri Lanka were the deserving winners of the riot-marred semi-final, but Australia looked a beaten side in the other semi-final against the West Indies till ace leg-spinner Shane Warne unfurled his magic.

The West Indies were 165-2 chasing a modest Australian total of 207 before Warne turned the match upside-down with four wickets to bowl his team to a five-run victory.

Sri Lanka played the final as if they had to settle a score with Australia. Ranatunga defied history when he put the opposition in after winning the toss, for no team had previously won the Cup chasing a target.

Australia were 137-1 after a century stand between Taylor (74) and Ricky Ponting (45) before Ranatunga restricted them to 241 by cleverly using his spinners.

Australia dismissed the Sri Lankan openers cheaply, but Aravinda received valuable support from Asanka Gurusinha (65) and Ranatunga (47 not out) to steer his team home.

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